Newsflash: elektrische Corvette Sedan laat nog even op zich wachten


+++ BMW lowered its output forecast and warned of a highly volatile second half on Wednesday, pinpointing supplies of energy in Europe and chips worldwide as the 2 crucial factors to the carmaker hitting full-year earnings targets. New incoming orders were beginning to fall but order books remained filled for the next few months, chief executive Oliver Zipse said. Demand for electric models was particularly high, finance chief Nicolas Peter added. The premium carmaker was on track to meet its goal of doubling all-electric car sales by year end and expected total sales growth of 5% to 10% in the second half boosted by strong Asian markets, he said. Still, BMW expects year-end deliveries to fall short of last year’s record highs of 2.52 million. Tightening sanctions on Russia, interruption of gas supply or the possibility of the war in Ukraine spreading were not factored into its forecast. “The crucial factor will be how the supply situation develops, not just for semiconductors, but also energy supplies in Europe”, Zipse said. Daniel Schwarz, analyst at Stifel, called its outlook “rather disappointing” while Berstein Research noted how BMW became the first carmaker to signal caution about demand. Germany and other European Union members have adopted emergency plans to curb gas use amid fears that Russia could further cut or stop supplying gas to Europe in response to Western sanctions over its invasion of Ukraine. BMW consumes around 3.500 gigawatt hours of energy annually in Germany and Austria, three-quarters of which comes from natural gas. The carmaker could replace the around 500 gigawatt hours of electricity produced per year from gas-powered combined heat and power plants by buying electricity from elsewhere, Zipse said. Replacing gas used in manufacturing processes would be more complex. “Partial compensation is possible, but even if it works, it will certainly be expensive. There is no way we will be able to maintain the costs per kilowatt hour”, he added. A survey by Germany’s Ifo institute showed German carmakers’ business situation beginning to deteriorate in July, with order backlogs shrinking and price expectations plummeting. BMW struck a more negative note than competitor Mercedes-Benz, which last week raised its earnings outlook for the year after profits and revenues grew in the second quarter despite falling unit sales. The Munich-based carmaker’s earnings fell 31% in the second quarter to 3.4 billion euros despite growing revenues, still beating a 3.13 billion euro forecast in a poll of 8 analysts. The consolidation of its China joint venture BMW Brilliance Automotive pushed up revenues in the first half but dampened second quarter earnings, BMW said, reporting an automotive margin of 8.2%, down from last year’s 15.8%. +++

+++ General Motors president Mark Reuss already said that a battery-electric Chevrolet Corvette is on the way, telling CNBC in April: “In addition to the amazing new Z06 and other gas-powered variants coming, we will offer an electrified and a fully electric, Ultium-based Corvette in the future. In fact, we will offer an electrified Corvette as early as next year. Details and names to come at a later date”. The next big question is when. Analists think a battery-only Corvette won’t arrive during the current C8’s generation, as the Y2 platform might need too much tinkering for an ideal conversion. Instead, it is believed “the C9 Corvette EV feels more or less like an inevitability”. Electrification will induce expansion of the Corvette nameplate that’s been water cooler talk for years, especially with the example of the Ford Mustang Mach-E. Which is to say, they’re talking about an electric CORVETTE SEDAN . An American magazine wrote: “Here’s what we understand to be happening: GM is indeed making an electric performance sedan, but it’s with a Corvette badge, and it will be in showrooms by mid-decade”. Same as with every 2-door Corvette for the past few decades, the electric family car would target Porsche, which means putting the Taycan in its sights. By then, though, the segment will be home to new performance-focused electric 4-seaters from a gaggle of makers not in the segment now, such as Alfa Romeo, BMW, Dodge and Maserati. The Cadillac Celestiq would provide its bones for this sedan, built at the Lansing Grand River Assembly facility instead of the Warren Technical Center. Were that true, it would also mean the expansion of Corvette production beyond the Bowling Green, Kentucky home that’s been the sole source of ‘Vette manufacture since June 1, 1981. The expectation is that there’d be an electric Corvette SUV further down the road, which I’d guess is a challenger for the Macan or Cayenne. And if this is how everything plays out. It eliminates any chance of the electric Camaro sedan that some predicted could arise from the ashes of the current Camaro’s retirement in 2024. Until then, the thinking goes, the market will make do with electrified Corvettes. That means the E-Ray hybrid due next year, expected to introduce a 650 hp all-wheel-drive powertrain to the Corvette lineup, and a small electric range. After that, the full-fat Zora hybrid lurks in the mist, some suspecting the homage to the father of the Corvette will make near 1.000 hp. +++

+++ Carmakers are reporting lower DEMAND in Europe and North America amid what analysts say is growing evidence that consumers are balking at higher prices and keeping their cash for necessities. Although some upmarket brands like Ferrari and Mercedes have raised sales forecasts due to continued high demand for top end models, the outlook for the bulk of the industry is bleaker. Waiting times on new orders are becoming shorter as order books thin out. That’s even with production slower than usual and deliveries well below last year, executives said. “New incoming orders are falling”, BMW chief executive Oliver Zipse said in an earnings call on Wednesday, pointing in particular to Europe. Carmakers have until now protected margins by bumping up prices, but the steep rise in inflation in North America and Europe could make it more difficult to pass on rising costs. “Demand is coming down”, Volkswagen’s chief financial officer Arno Antlitz said last week, though he said order books were still full for the coming months. “The warning signs are for Europe and North America, less for the Chinese region”. Inflation in Europe and the United States has soared in recent months with central banks warning a peak could be months away, sending consumer and business sentiment plummeting. Data from online car dealerships and auction platforms showed a slowdown in demand since March this year, Philip Nothard, insights director for Europe at Cox Automotive, said. “Consumers are currently very cautious”, he said. A survey by the Munich-based Ifo institute released on Wednesday showed German carmakers’ order backlogs shrinking and price expectations on a downward spiral due to concerns about a gas shortage and continued weakness in the Chinese economy. “The weight of buying a car on the household budget is something we will come up against”, Stellantis chief executive Carlos Tavares said last month. For now, the carmaker intended to carry on passing its own rising costs to consumers, but this could not last forever. “There is a limit to price hikes”, Tavares said. In the United States, Ford was considering bringing back discounts and incentives which were scrapped last year amid supply chain concerns, chief financial officer John Lawler said. “That’s a relief valve going forward”, he said.

+++ Toyota calls the new Crown a “LIFT-UP SEDAN“. The coinage reminds me that the bard’s line, “A rose by any other name”, works in the other direction, too. That is, the duck-billed platypus and red-lipped batfish would look just as awkward if they were named Archangel and Jennifer. The question is, will this lift-up sedan look sweeter or less awkward to the American market than similar vehicles that have preceded it? Can the 2023 Toyota Crown triumph where, so far, in the internal-combustion segment, buyers haven’t taken to body styles that splice the sedan and crossover segments? Admittedly, the sample size is small. The Honda Accord Crosstour gets called up as the go-to comparator. Toyota distances the 2 by noting the Honda was designed to be a practical crossover with a tailgate, the Crown is a premium sedan with a trunk. There was BMW’s 6-series Grand Turismo range: definitely sedan(ish), definitely premium, definitely short-lived. I could shoehorn the Acura ZDX here, having approached this segment black hole from the other side as a lowered crossover coupe instead of an elevated sedan. It, too, got sucked into the singularity. Challengers: 0. Quick oblivion: 3. In the past 27 years, Toyota’s taken 3 big shots at blending established vehicle segments. The first was the Recreational Active Vehicle with 4 Wheel Drive, more commonly known as the RAV4. On sale here since the 1996 model year, relentless market ardor made it the 4th bestselling vehicle in the U.S. in 2021. The marketing brief couldn’t have been simpler: An SUV that drives like a car. Even more important: There was no mistaking what it was; it looked like an SUV. 13 years later, the second shot was the 2009 Toyota Venza, which split the difference between a RAV4 MPV and a Camry Wagon. Toyota touted it as mixing the “styling and comfort of a passenger car with the flexibility of a SUV”. In-house marketers tagged it with, “You’re more than 1 thing. So is Venza”. But reviewers couldn’t come to a consensus on what that 1 thing was; a tough fate in a classification-obsessed world. I liked everything about the Venza. But its fulsome utility couldn’t break through the anonymous styling, marketing fugue and the fact that it cost about the same as the clearly-an-SUV Toyota Highlander. In 10 years on sale in the U.S., the Venza sold about as many units as the RAV4 did in 2014. 14 years later, the Crown marks Toyota’s third shot down the gap. Don Johnson, product manager at Toyota Product Education, told me Americans are getting this body style out of the 4 new Crown variants because “Toyota will not abandon the sedan market”, clarifying that Toyota does consider this a sedan. Well, Toyota USA does not: Toyota Japan’s English language press materials refer to this body as a crossover. The cynical take would be that if an automaker is going to cling to the sedan segment in the U.S., that automaker will need something like a crossover to do it. The idea of a little lift, Johnson told us, was to “Give people leaving the sedan market a reason to stay, a chance to get what they want from a sedan and a crossover”. With the former, that means more dynamic handling. With the latter, that means higher sight lines and easier ingress and egress. And again that trunk, which buyers are expected to read as a noteworthy difference from previous, similar vehicles. There’s subtext here as well, in that Toyota isn’t trying to keep Avalon buyers. Ash Hack, vehicle series manager in Toyota Vehicle Marketing and Communications, told me: “The Avalon’s median buyer age was 66. The Crown is shooting at the age bracket 35-59 with a $125,000 median income.” That’s the tip of the Boomer tail, all of a more affluent Gen X, and a chunk of Gen Y who will appreciate the Crown’s “bold and striking innovation for the model and class”, as Toyota PR told me. Volvo and Subaru have made hay with ICE-powered lifted wagons. So far, though, U.S. buyers have only excused electric sedan-CUV hybrids. Even then, we’re talking about vehicles that clearly look like crossovers smushed to sedan height. The Crown matches the ground clearance of the outgoing Avalon. The ground clearances of the Chevrolet Bolt, Volkswagen ID.4, Kia EV6 and Polestar 2 are a mere 0.2 inch to 1.5 inches higher than the Avalon. But their roof heights are 4 to 8 inches higher and they have hatchbacks, so they’re crossovers as far as buyers are concerned. Seems shoppers will ignore blurry details for a quick, familiar answer to, “What is it?” So there’s no doubt the Crown’s a bold move in the class (if it even has a class) and that it ups Toyota’s hybrid game. The company’s waiting until closer to media drives to give up details on tech like the rear axle motors, driving modes, stiffer springs, and the electronically controlled braking system. But I know the Crown represents the first time Toyota’s tuned a hybrid system for dynamic rewards and paired it with a traditional automatic transmission in a passenger car. Going further to fullfill the Crown’s tech legacy, engineers developed the multi-plate wet start clutch to replace the usual torque converter and provide better in-gear punch. Since this is an opinion piece, I can say I’d give the Crown a better chance of making a market impact if it were prettier and/or electric. The car does look better in person, and the monotone colour is the way to go for the less bold among us. The bi-tone paint job carves out the sedan’s details in less elegant ways than I’d prefer. And no matter the colour, it’s hard to unsee the Nissan Maxima-esque lines in the rear three-quarter once detected. The unexpected shape contains unexpected decisions throughout. The nickel-metal hydride battery sounds like a throwback. Toyota said that choice “was about the availability of components for mass production. But there have been efficiency gains with Ni-MH, so the type works for right now. Of course, the writing’s on the wall.” That’s perhaps more subtext, Toyota deciding it didn’t want to worry about lithium-ion battery materials for even the Crown’s small pack. Whither our electric vehicle future. … Other intrigues include the manual prop used to hold up the curt hood; the Avalon comes with 2 hydraulic struts. I was told: “Owners don’t really lift the hoods anymore”. Hack described the Crown at speed as “Ultra quiet; the goal was to make it as quiet as possible inside”. Standing outside, though, the Hybrid Max powertrain on the performance-oriented Platinum trim makes the same dreary buzz as a frugal Toyota hybrid minus the frugality. Inside, the most upscale interior available is Softex synthetic leather trim with perforated leather inserts in the seats, standard on the Limited and the Platinum. Only the mid-grade Limited gets the choice of an interior colour other than black, with Macadamia and Chestnut/Black on the menu. Considering Toyota has Lexus to protect, and my suspicion that the Crown’s price won’t be far off the Lexus ES, the Crown’s cabin is … fine. However, I daresay I might end up thinking the Avalon Limited cabin (offering 3 shades of premium, genuine leather) is nicer. I look forward to getting the answers and comparing the Crown to both the Avalon it replaces and the competition. So far, without having driven it, I don’t see the Crown as the model to escape the hex on this mashup category, feeling less RAV4 and more Venza: The Sequel. But who knows; I might have said the same about the platypus and batfish if I were a biologist, and we see how that turned out. +++


+++ Luxury EV startup LUCID MOTORS changed its yearly production target again, lowering it to an expected output of between 6.000 and 7.000 vehicles, the company announced today. That’s only a fraction of the 20.000 cars that Lucid initially promised to deliver in 2022. The Tesla competitor has only produced 1.405 vehicles so far this year, giving it a mere 4 months to build thousands of new cars. Supply chain woes and a shortage of parts and raw materials are to blame for the slow output, the company claims. In a call with investors, the California-based company’s CEO Peter Rawlinson said it is planning a number of structural changes to amp up production. “Our revised production guidance reflects the extraordinary supply chain and logistics challenges we encountered”, said Rawlinson. “We’ve identified the primary bottlenecks, and we are taking appropriate measures: bringing our logistics operations in-house, adding key hires to the executive team, and restructuring our logistics and manufacturing organization”. On top of ongoing production struggles, this May, the company was forced to recall all of its 2022 Air EVs due to wiring issues; a total of over 1.000 cars. Such challenges haven’t appeared to impact demand for the luxury vehicles. So far, there have been 37.000 reservations for Lucid Motor’s all-electric sedan, the Air, the company disclosed in the call. On top of that, Lucid plans to sell over 100.000 cars to the government of Saudi Arabia, which poured over $1 billion into the company and owns a 62 percent stake. +++

+++ PORSCHE added a second body style to the Cayenne line-up when it launched the Coupe variant of the third-generation model for 2020, but the idea of expanding the range is as old as the SUV itself. The company shed light on a convertible that could have made it to production. Introduced in December 2002, the original Cayenne was exclusively offered as a 5-door SUV. Executives considered 3 additional body styles: a coupe, a 3-row model extended by 20 cm and a convertible. While the trio were ultimately canned, Porsche built a life-sized model of the droptop so that its designers could check whether the body style was comfortable and practical, play around with different top options, and settle on a rear-end design. This explains why the back end is fitted with 2 distinctly different looks. Visually, the Cayenne Cabriolet looks close to the regular-production SUV when viewed from the front. It’s a different story from the side: It has 2 doors, and it’s fitted with a black soft top designed to fold into the trunk thanks to a mechanism similar to the one fitted to the 911 Targa. Out back, well … it depends on which angle you’re viewing it from. The driver side is more 911-like, while the passenger side is more angular and SUV-like. Most of the interior parts ahead of the driver are standard Cayenne bits, like the 3-spoke steering wheel. Porsche explains that it cancelled the Cayenne Cabriolet because it couldn’t make a favourable business case for the model. Design-related concerns also played a role in the model’s demise, however. “An SUV as a convertible is a challenge both aesthetically and formally. An SUV always has a large and heavy body. You combine this with a small top half and then cut off the roof, you get very strange shapes emerging from that”, said Porsche head designer Michael Mauer. +++


+++ The Insurance Institute for Highway Safety in the United States announced Thursday that it has tested another round of existing models using its new (and still forthcoming) side-impact methodology, and the news is bad for the enthusiast crowd. Midsize sedans and wagons will not fare well when tested using the new barrier, which more accurately represents the height and mass of modern SUVs. The current IIHS side-impact test is more than 15 years old. The Institute’s updated regime would utilizes a heavier barrier (up from 1.400 kilo to 2.000 kilo) that will be propelled at 60 kph (vs. 50 kph currently). Engineers said the 10 kph increase injects 42% more energy into the crash. Adding 600 kilos to the barrier adds another 40 percent more energy on top of that. While these updates have not yet been implemented, IIHS has performed some testing of current cars as part of its development process. Late last year, some small SUVs were subjected to the new test for the first time. Only the Mazda CX-5 aced the new test. This time around, IIHS tested the Chevrolet Malibu, Toyota Camry, Honda Accord, Hyundai Sonata, Volkswagen Jetta, Nissan Altima and Subaru Outback. The results were even more disheartening. “Overall, this initial group of midsize cars did not perform as well as the first batches of small and midsize SUVs evaluated earlier”, IIHS said in its release. “One reason could be their lower ride height”. That might explain why the SUBARU Outback, with its higher-than-average ground clearance, managed to score a “Good” on the updated test. The Jetta and Sonata managed “Acceptable” scores; the Accord, Malibu, Altima and Camry all earned “Marginal” ratings. “With vehicles that sit lower to the ground, the striking barrier hits higher on the door panel”, said IIHS president David Harkey. “That potentially puts sedans and wagons at a disadvantage in this evaluation but reflects what happens in a real-world crash when these vehicles are struck by a higher-riding SUV”. For now, the updated test does not count toward a model’s performance in IIHS testing but it will become part of the suite starting in 2023. A good or acceptable rating will be required for the lower-tier Top Safety Pick; only Good will allow a vehicle to qualify for Top Safety Pick+. +++

+++ TESLA shareholders on Thursday approved a 3-for-1 stock split, a move that will make the company’s shares more accessible to smaller investors. Preliminary results of the shareholder vote were announced at the electric car and solar panel maker’s annual meeting at its new factory in Austin, Texas. CEO Elon Musk also discussed at the meeting a major factory expansion in the future as the company moves toward a goal of making 20 million vehicles per year. It now produces around 1.5 million per year. Musk said Tesla might announce another factory site this year, and it expects to have about a dozen in the future. Currently the company has assembly plants in Fremont, California; Austin; Berlin and Shanghai. Musk joked that many had suggested Canada as a site for the next new plant. The company made its 3 millionth vehicle in the past few weeks, Musk said. Tesla stock closed Thursday at $925.90, down 12.4% so far this year, but it almost completed a split itself, tumbling more than 40% by May after Musk made a $44 billion bid to buy Twitter in April. Investors were worried that Musk would be distracted from Tesla if he purchased the social media platform. But Musk backed out of the deal in July and Twitter sued him to force him to make the purchase. A trial is scheduled for October in Delaware Chancery Court. Tesla stock began to recover in July, boosted by better-than-expected second-quarter earnings. Tesla announced plans for the split in late March when shares were trading over $1.000. It will not affect Tesla’s overall market value or its status as the world’s most valuable automaker. Share splits are used by companies when their stock price gets too high for retail investors to buy individual shares, or when a company wants more shares to exist in the marketplace to make the stock more liquid to trade. Tesla has said it was trying to accomplish both of these goals: giving its employees greater quantities of shares as well as making the stock more accessible to retail investors. Musk sold some shares of Tesla for the Twitter purchase and had planned on using other shares as collateral. Shareholders also re-elected Ira Ehrenpreis and Kathleen Wilson-Thompson to the Tesla board. +++

+++ The TOYOTA BZ4X is brand new and just hitting the streets, but there’s already a big problem for the EV. In June, Toyota advised owners to park their new electric crossover, stating that sharp turns or abrupt acceleration could cause the vehicle’s hub bolts to loosen, making it more likely that a wheel would fall off. Now, the automaker is sending letters to owners with the next steps, and the situation appears to have reached the point that Toyota’s ready to start buying back BZ4Xs from unsatisfied buyers. Toyota sent letters to buyers, advising them to continue avoiding driving their vehicles. The automaker also offered several remedies to affected owners, including reimbursements if the car was paid in full, continued access to a loaner vehicle and storage of the BZ4X, free charging, and extensions of factory warranties. If none of those offers are satisfactory, Toyota is offering to buy back affected BZ4Xs. The terms and conditions of the buyback offer depend on the state and the particulars of each sale. That the automaker is moving to make the buyback offer is significant because the BZ4X is such a new and high-profile vehicle. It’s Toyota’s first dedicated EV, so the wheels falling off is even more of a disaster than it would be for a more anonymous model. Buybacks can cost billions for automakers, but Toyota only has a few thousand bZ4Xs in the wild so far. Owners are in a tough spot because the auto market is such an odd place right now. Buybacks are likely viewed as a last resort for many owners, who are left with few options for a comparable replacement. Some even paid dealer mark-ups to get a BZ4X, and there are forum accounts of buyers pursuing reimbursement from Toyota for the overage. Since it shares so much with the BZ4X, the Subaru Solterra is also wrapped up in this recall. None of those vehicles have yet been delivered in the U.S., so that’s less of a problem. That said, there are plenty of buyers with the EV on order, so it’s unclear what will happen with their reservations. It’s also not immediately apparent if the related Lexus RZ will end up with a similar recall. No doubt Toyota will scramble to resolve the problem as quickly as possible. +++

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